German court decides against trying alleged Nazi camp guard

BERLIN (AP) — A German court has declined to put on trial a 95-year-old man alleged to have served as a guard at the Nazis’ Mauthausen concentration camp, saying Friday that it doesn’t see enough evidence to support charges of accessory to murder.

The Berlin state court said prosecutors have appealed against its decision, which was made Thursday. Charges against the suspect, who has been identified only as Hans Werner H. in line with German privacy rules, were filed in October.

The suspect was accused of serving as an SS guard at the camp in Austria from October 1944 to May 1945, a time when prosecutors say 36,223 people were killed at Mauthausen. He wasn’t accused of a specific killing, but prosecutors argue that as a guard he helped the camp function.

The court questioned the chances of proving that the suspect was at Mauthausen. It said in a statement that he admits having been a member of the SS, but says he never set foot in the camp — though he did briefly serve as a guard at a satellite camp and an armaments factory in Linz that was connected to it.

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He also provided documents saying he belonged to a battalion that was on a combat mission during at least part of the time in question, the court added. It questioned the value of documents cited by prosecutors, among them a list that placed him as an SS Rottenfuehrer — roughly equivalent to corporal — but according to the court didn’t specify whether or where he was a guard.

Overall, about 95,000 people are believed to have died in the Mauthausen camp system including 14,000 Jews, but also Soviet prisoners of war, Spaniards who had fought against Gen. Francisco Franco, and others.

New legal reasoning in Germany advanced in recent years holds that former Nazi camp guards can be charged as accessories to murder even if there is no evidence they participated in a specific killing.

The argument has been upheld by the country’s highest criminal court and has led to several prosecutions.

However, such cases can be complicated to bring to trial and then to a conclusion, not least because of the suspects’ advanced ages.

In a separate case, the Frankfurt state court said Thursday that it won’t put on trial a former guard at the Majdanek death camp, arguing that the 97-year-old was too sick to face court proceedings.

And last week, the trial in Muenster of a former SS guard at the Stutthof concentration camp collapsed after the 94-year-old defendant was hospitalized for heart and kidney issues — causing several court hearings to be canceled.

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